THE HISTORY OF WIMBLEDON FOOTBALL CLUB
1970
1970-71

Wimbledon opened 1970-1 with a friendly against Chelsea and 3,000 saw the visitors win 5-4. Yet after the match, however, Chelsea followers swarmed onto the pitch and stole the comer flags. Some even scaled the scaffolding on the half-built Sydney Black Memorial Hall in Durnsford Road.

Wimbledon began their league season with a visit to Nuneaton Borough and Alan Burton scored the opening goal as Wimbledon won their opening fixture 2-0 - their last opening day victory until 1985!

Wimbledon were playing impressively at home. After an early defeat by Yeovil, the Dons won the next 16 matches at Plough Lane. Their away form was not as impressive, but they stayed up with the leaders.

Wimbledon began their defence of the Southern League Cup by beating Burton Albion 4-1 at home, Cooke scoring twice and a 1-0 defeat at Eton Park saw Wimbledon through 4-2 on aggregate. In the London Challenge Cup preliminary round, Wimbledon were drawn at St. Albans City. Cooke scored an eight-minute second half hat-trick and Wimbledon eased home 5-1 in front of 1,200 fans.

Guy was again excellent in the first round match at Orient, where only 800 saw him almost single handedly keep the home for­wards at bay before O'Mara set up two late goals for Wimbledon.

This brought Crystal Palace to Plough Lane and they fielded seven players with first team experience. Although Palace opened the scoring in the 11th minute, O'Mara equalised twenty minutes later and a diving McCready header midway through the second half sealed a 2-1 victory. Hitchin were comfortably beaten 3-0 in the Semi-Final, earning Wimbledon a final place against Football Combination leaders Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.

But first came the F .A. Cup. Wimbledon were still exempt until the fourth qualifying round stage where they were drawn away at Leatherhead. There were all the trappings of a Cup upset at Fetcham Grove and it was no sur­prise when Leatherhead went a goal ahead in the 20th minute.

But in the second half, Wimbledon showed all their professionalism by taking control and when O'Rourke was bundled off the ball in the 72nd minute, it ran free for Bailham to stroke home the equaliser. The home team blitzed Wimbledon for 10 minutes and Guy had to make the save of the season to keep Wimbledon level. But Leatherhead burnt themselves out and Bailham scored with a beautiful 35-yard shot five minutes from time to earn Wimbledon a first round tie at Peterborough.

A crowd of 5,919, including a large contingent from Wimbledon, saw the Dons make the worst possible start at London Road. Keith Sanderson, perhaps forgetting that Wimbledon were playing in red shirts and white shorts instead of the usual blue, passed the ball straight to the blue-shirted Garwood in front of goal and the home forward made no mistake after only 21 seconds.

Cooke almost equalised with a diving header, but Wimbledon went 2-0 down after 31 minutes before Cooke finally pulled one back with a brilliant header. Wimbledon got right on top, but then tragedy struck. Cooke was fouled and badly injured, was carried off and with him went Wimbledon's chances. They continued to press forward, but without much conviction and Peterborough scored on the break to give them a flattering 3-1 victory.

Cooke was sadly still sidelined for the London Challenge cup final at White Hart Lane. Spurs fielded a strong side, including seven players with first team experience and went ahead in the third minute, leaving the Wimbledon fans in the 2,839 crowd fearing the worst. But Wimbledon soon took control and Tottenham conceded 25 free kicks as they struggled to keep Wimbledon out. But a late onslaught by Wimbledon was not enough and Tottenham held on to win 1-0.

Wimbledon beat Dartford by the only goal in a physical League match, O'Rourke scoring in the 40th minute, before the sides met again in the FA Trophy. Wimbledon made a great start, Collins scoring from a free kick in the first minute, but the threatened rout failed to materia1ise. Instead, it was no surprise when Dartford equa1ised in the 72nd minute from the penalty spot and held out for a draw.

Conditions were appalling in the replay at Watling Street and reduced the gate to only 732. Wimbledon had to kick up the slope, with the wind and rain blowing in their faces in the first-half, and turned round 2-0 down. But they recovered after the break and Cooke scored twice before Bailham beauti­fully flicked home what proved to be the 80th minute winner.

Bromsgrove were next and before the match Wimbledon were quoted as 8-1 favourites for the Trophy by a Bromsgrove bookmaker, but this didn't stop the visitors bringing 14 coaches and 450 fans on a specia1 train to boost the crowd to 2,200. Wimbledon established early control and a 3 goal blast just after the half-hour sealed the match. Bailham then scored on the break to make the final score 4-0.

Wimbledon were still in with a chance of winning the League, were in the last 16 of the FA Trophy and had reached the Southern League Cup Semi-Final. But it seemed that this was not good enough for the board. On February 22 they decided that at the end of the season, Les Henley's contract would not be renewed and he became the first Wimbledon manager to be sacked.

The timing of this announcement left a lot to be desired. The FA Trophy game with Yeovil was just five days away. The news certainly affected the players in the third round tie where a best of season crowd of 3,194 turned out to see Yeovil go ahead after just three minutes.

Henley was still at the helm, though and would be for another two months and he inspired the team for the second half where a brilliant Hodges equaliser in the 69th minute earned Wimbledon a replay. In the Yeovil replay Bailham missed two good chances in the opening 20 minutes, but Yeovil scored on the stroke of half-time and went on to win convincingly 4-0.

Three days later just 849 spectators, Wimbledon's first three figure crowd in the Southern League, turned up to see Wimbledon beat Bath City 5-2 in blizzard conditions. But the Dons' League hopes had already died and their only chance of glory was in the Southern League Cup. That all came to an end at Weymouth in the Semi-final, however, beaten by two late goals.

There had been eight applications for Henley's job. But even though the board had stressed that they were looking for a player-manager, two of the eight were no longer playing and of the other six none were big names. O'Mara was sold to Brentford for £750 plus another £250 if he made 20 appearances just before the transfer deadline, while on April 5 Mike Everitt was named as new player-manager.

Henley's last match in charge was the 3-2 home win over Gloucester City on April 17, Cooke scoring a late winner and Everitt took over for the home match against Poole Town three days later, with Cooke again on target with the only goal of the match. Wimbledon eventually finished eighth in the table fading away after Henley's dismissal.

But Henley was awarded a testimonial against Oxford United at the end of the sea­son and 1,038 supporters paid around £250 to see United win 3-1. Wimbledon had averaged just under 1,500 in Southern League matches and had not attracted 2,000 to any home League game. The financial position was now serious, and the directors needed the team to do well.

But if the board expected Henley's dismissal to lead to an immediate improvement in playing standards, they were to be mistaken. Things would get worse before they got better. When the Board of Directors informed Les Henley that his services were no longer required, they were acting in response to the changes in the way the game was being played, as well as the specific needs of the football club.

Alf Ramsey had won the world cup for England in 1966 without wingers and in the European Competitions the defence orientated Italian outfits were gaining ascendancy with their style which was a tactician's dream and a spectator's nightmare. The objective in Football had become to concede less goals than your opponent rather than to score more and into that defensive mould new manager Mike Everitt fitted ideally.

Everitt was a young, enthusiastic Manager. "First and foremost, I want a team of fighters and runners," he declared, shortly after taking over and his brand of enthusiasm was undoubtedly a factor in winning over the Directors. On the playing front, Everitt faced a difficult introduction. The squad had grown old together and it was clear that fresh faces would have been needed even if Henley had not been sacked.

Since the death of benefactor Sydney Black in 1968, the Club had had to rely much more on gate receipts than had been necessary before, but these had dwindled. It was hoped that the changes would bring about an upsurge in interest. Everitt had taken over team affairs with a couple of games left at the end of the previous season, but his first real test was to come at the start of the 71-72 campaign.